From avocado toast and Instagram to 3D-printed custom prostheses (Disney characters or tattoos, anyone?) and Uber, Millennials are famous for innovation. Allergic to the status quo, we’re built for “figuring it out” and finding unique ways to do things.
Now, with platforms like TikTok, Youtube, and Instagram allowing us to share life’s tips, tricks, and hacks in a way that’s supremely digestible, we can easily bring that innovation home. Who needs to buy cheap mass-produced stuff when--with just a how-to video and a few basic tools--you can build your own bed frame, coffee table, bookshelves, or even light fixtures?
If you’re on board but your tool collection consists of an old screwdriver and a bent fork, stick around. We’re going to fix that -- with yet another Millennial invention. (It’s this article. That’s the invention.)
I Can Do It Myself
Whether you’re installing a switchplate, hanging shelves, fixing a leaky faucet, or building a chair to impress your friends, the first order of business is getting those tools. If walking around a big box tool center leaves you on overwhelm, you’re in luck. Here are some basic tools to get you started.
(Pro tip: if you want to avoid the colossal chain stores altogether--while keeping your money local (!)--we have an app for that.)
Not really sure we need to make a case for this, but a screwdriver set is probably the most crucial item for your toolbox. Look for flathead and Phillips (sometimes called star-tip -- it’s for those screws with crossed lines on top) to start. Useful for...well, turning screws, prying lids, and a ton more. Screwdrivers really are all-star players and a must-have in any toolbox. For a bit more cash, ratcheting screwdrivers will get the job done faster and with less effort.
Measuring for a new rug you saw online? Building wall-to-wall shelves? Curious about your height at 3:00 in the morning? Gotta have a quality measuring tape. Make it metal, make it locking, and make it a quality brand, or you might make it fly through a closed window.
We don’t have to list all the things you can do with a hammer for you to know this thing will be one of the most-used tools in your collection. Face it: someday you have to stop pounding picture nails with your shoes.
A single standard claw hammer (the first thing you see when you think “hammer”) with a steel or fiberglass handle (wood may split over time) is all you need for everyday projects.
A utility knife (AKA, an X-acto knife) is a handle with a retractable or folding razor blade. Read: this bitch will cut you, so be very careful. Handy for cutting plastic, cardboard, old caulk seams, and wires (electricity off at the junction box first, please), carpet, and more.
There are a lot of wrenches out there. At minimum, you’ll want a small set of open-end wrenches in an array of sizes. We recommend a few box-end as well,* but with an open-end you can go at the nut or bolt from the side, which is necessary if you're squeezed for space. That being the case, if you're only going to have one type--that's the one to grab. For double-duty, pick up a small set of combination open- and box-end types (open on one end, box on the other).
Another type, the adjustable crescent wrench, has adjustable jaws that grip nuts and bolts of most sizes. Just be gentle, or you’ll turn your hexagonal nuts and bolts into ragged little circles you can’t grab for anything. (Profanity will be involved.)
Hex keys (or “Allen wrenches”) are the winner for putting together IKEA furniture and other items that come with those funny hexagonal screws. Will you use hex keys all the time? Nope. Will you love us when you need one, and have one on hand? Yes.
*Why? Box wrenches go all the way around nuts and bolts, which helps to prevent the wrench from slipping (and stripping the corners off the outside of the nut or bolt).
Need to get a grip? (lol sorry) These will help. Pliers are good for small jobs needing a firm twist or pull, and are great for bending flexible metal. Needle nose pliers, which come in a range of sizes, can grab those teensy things you can’t quite get your fingers around and also reach into tight spaces, like getting into a small hole to pull a wire. Or...inserting a nose stud. (See? The innovation never ends.)
If you want to get things straight the first time, this is how to do it. Levels don’t cost much, and the frustration (and walls) saved using one to hang pictures makes it a good investment. If you’re confused by the types of levels you might find available, here’s a handy primer.
No, not that kind of stud. Although high-quality anchors will help protect your drywall when hanging hefty items, when hanging really heavy stuff, the best way to assure that what goes up stays up is to secure it to one or more studs. (Studs are the wooden boards running from floor to ceiling behind your walls, usually 16” apart.)
(P.S. We’ve linked to Bob Vila’s site a lot in this article because he’s got a lot of good advice. We are not fangirling and no, he isn’t sending us referral checks. If that changes, we’ll buy a fancy kombucha and text you.)
Small Putty Knife
Keep this guy and a small container of spackling or drywall compound handy for filling small holes in your walls (or wood putty for trim).
Rip or Crosscut Saw
These saws cut everything wood, from lumber to tree branches. To make sure all your fingers stay attached--and to avoid fits of rage from the blade bending and getting stuck--look for a grip that feels good in your hand, a nice strong blade, and solid construction. Check those teeth, too: the wider set they are, the rougher the cut.
Crow bars pry all things and are useful for removing trim (protect your wall first). Also called pry bars and pinch bars, they come in an array of sizes and types, often with a “foot” at the end that can remove even the most stubborn nails.
Also, we thought you should know that this exists on the internet:
Coming in at around $50, the only power tool to appear one our list fits the basics category, but grab one with specialized attachments and you’ll have the queen of multi-taskers. You’ll be drilling holes, driving and removing screws, tightening bolts, hammering nails, stirring paint, sanding, buffing, digging a hole, and even deep cleaning your house with one of these babies.
In the odds and ends category, we give you:
Duct tape is famed (and also famously ugly) for holding just about anything securely. That said, you will never remove all the adhesive it leaves behind, so only use it when you just don’t care. Also worth noting: in an ironic twist, duct tape should not be used on ductwork.
- Masking tape and electrical tape
- Zip ties (not for kidnapping)
Super glue (follow the directions, get this on nothing but its target)
- Picture nails in a few sizes
- A handful of screws and nails in an assortment of sizes
There’s An App For That
So now your toolbox is stocked with basics, but not maybe everything--and you’re staring down a project
that calls for tools you don’t own (and don’t want to buy because...bills). What if you never use that $300 reciprocating saw again?
The Sparetoolz tool rental app has you covered. Sparetoolz securely connects you with neighbors who have what you need and will rent them for a reasonable fee.
The sharing economy -- and the Millennials driving it -- can get you a car, a beach house, designer clothes, and yes, a 12” 15-amp dual bevel sliding compound miter saw.
Time to get your creativity on! (Or fix that leak. Maybe do that first.)